Please read Linda Holmes’s piece on NBC’s decision to cancel Southland after ordering, and then not airing, a second season. The main point of the decision is that NBC has dropped the pretense that The Jay Leno Show will not interfere with their commitment to drama. NBC ordered what was basically a 10 o’clock drama, assured everyone that this would be fine to air at 9 o’clock, and then decided that, no, it’s really not a 9 o’clock show after all. In doing so they probably killed their relationship with John Wells and, perhaps more importantly, gave themselves a reputation as a network that drama producers can’ t depend upon to air their episodes at all. And what with the decision to sink lots of money into episodes and then not air them, you have to wonder whether even the low production costs of Jay Leno can make up for all the money NBC is wasting on that.
In part this may just prove that NBC’s drama development hasn’t yet caught up with their last-minute decision to abandon the 10 o’clock hour. I’d be reluctant to say that their Leno experiment can’t work, because Fox does just fine not broadcasting anything after 10 o’clock. But they have stayed away from the shows like ER and NYPD Blue that wouldn’t work as 9 o’clock shows. As Holmes points out, NBC’s abandonment of drama looks even worse because their sister network USA is doing extremely well with scripted dramas — and not ambitious, expensive dramas like Kings, just good solid light entertainments. Shows like Southland — not great works of television art, but solid mainstream dramas with a dark tone — were perfect for 10 o’clock; they really do have trouble working earlier, so NBC isn’t necessarily wrong to think it wouldn’t be a 9 o’clocker; the network was just wrong to come to this realization in the most expensive, humiliating and angry-making way possible.
NBC could theoretically come up with 9 o’clock dramas that would work for them. On the other hand, since even their time-slot-appropriate dramas either stink now (Heroes) or don’t get very good ratings in spite of being perfect for that time slot (Chuck), it may not be that their drama development needs to adjust to the new reality. It might just be that they’re just a very poorly-run network.